Mesa County jobless rate retreats

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Curtis Englehart

The monthly unemployment rate has retreated in Mesa County, but remains nearly double the jobless rate before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic a year ago.

As seasonal hiring warms up along with the weather, more COVID-19 vaccinations are administered and pandemic restrictions ease, local labor conditions will improve, said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “I feel like we’ve set ourselves up for a very successful 2021. But these numbers show we’re not out of the woods yet.”

According to the latest Colorado Department of Labor and Employment estimates, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent in February. That’s two-tenths of a point lower than a jobless rate revised upward six-tenths of a point to 8 percent in January. 

At this time last year — just before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic — the rate stood at 4 percent.

For February 2021, Mesa County payrolls decreased 226 to 70,052. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased 175 to 5,950. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, retreated 401 to 76,002.

Compared to a year ago, payrolls have declined 3,199 even as the ranks of the unemployed have advanced 2,879. The labor force has edged down 320.

Given a choice between February 2021 and February 2020, Englehart said he prefers coming out of a pandemic over going into one. “It does feel much better here than this time last year.”

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center has increased, he said. The 704 job orders posted in February and 717 orders posted in January constitute a 67 percent increase over the 850 job orders posted for the same two months in 2020. The health care sector accounts for the bulk of orders, but hiring has picked up for jobs in accommodations, food services, office administration and retail.

According to state estimates, Mesa County has recovered 65 percent of the jobs lost in the pandemic, he said. That’s ahead of statewide recovery of 57 percent.

Still, new filings for unemployment benefits remain far higher than levels before the pandemic. For January and February, 1,900 new filings were reported in Mesa County. That contrasts with 377 filings for the same two months in 2021.

Although more will be known when March estimates come out on April 16,  Englehart said he expects the monthly jobless rate to continue to trend downward and the labor force to grow as more people relocate to the area. “I do feel Mesa County is on the road to recover more quickly.”

The Mesa County Workforce Center and Colorado Mesa University will join to help make connections between employers and prospective employees in a career and job fair scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 8 at the Mesa Mall in Grand Junction. Employers that would like to participate should call 248-7560.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates increased in neighboring Western Slope counties in February: up a tenth of a point to 6.3 percent in Garfield County, up two-tenths of a point to 6.8 percent in Montrose County and 7.3 percent in Delta County, and up eight-tenths of a point to 7.6 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate held steady at 6.6 percent as nonfarm payrolls increased 5,200 from January to February.

Over the past year, the state unemployment rate has increased 3.8 points as nonfarm payrolls have decreased 156,700. The leisure and hospitality sector accounted for more than half private sector job losses.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls shortened over the past year two-tenths of an hour to 33.4 hours. Average hourly earnings fell 17 cents to $30.83.